Category Archives: marriage

A Pair of Cleats

I went to a weekend women’s retreat for the first time in eight years. I left my children with tears in their eyes. It was a hard parting. The eight year old stood stoic on the lawn as I pulled out of the driveway. The three year old saluted grimly. The six year old buried his face on Daddy’s shoulder.

me. alone.

It was only for two days. They would be with Daddy. I knew they would be safe. They would be at home. They would be fed and clothed (after a fashion, anyway.) It would be ok.

But I am mommy. The kisser of boo-boos. The pourer of milk. The dinner maker. The teachable-moment-catcher. The toilet paper roll-changer. The tucker-inner. The nose wiper. The bad dream stopper. The multitasking superhero in yoga pants who makes everything better.

And I am wife. The morning coffee maker. The homemaker.   The appointment booker. The hanger-upper-of shirts. The bed maker. The confidante. The raiser of mini-cloned namesakes. The other half.

I love my job description. It’s glorious. Truly.

But while it’s hard, it’s harder still to leave it. The morning of the day I left, the two year old learned to climb out of his crib. That’s great for milestones. Bad for sleeping. Facepalm.

I know from personal experience that God can meet me right on the dirty linoleum at the sacred altar of the kitchen sink on a rainy Wednesday morning. He’s like that. So I don’t leave much. In fact, I’m confident that if I never had a day off during my children’s growing years, it would be ok. Probably 95% of mommies around the world never get such a luxury. It is not a necessity. Oh, it was wonderful, refreshing, renewing to go away for the weekend. I laughed hard and lived on too much coffee, spent time praying and crying and shopping with friends. It was a mountain top experience.

But not much lives on top of a mountain.

Men cycle in 24 hour periods. Their hormones peak, plummet, and start fresh every morning. They can work hard and rest hard within every 7 day course. But women cycle longer. Our hormones take about thirty days to rise and fall before new beginnings. We have been created for long haul living. Long term loving. Days go by without lunch breaks. Our on-call night shift starts the day a baby is born- and we might not go off duty for years. I live in the land of spilled Cheerios and broken English, car seat battles, and being the first and last face my children see Every. Single. Day. For over a decade. Farmers work hard during the growing season; they can’t rest until the harvest is in. The growing season for raising a crop of straw-headed boys can seem relentlessly long and thankless. But. We were made for this.

God made the world, way back in Genesis. And it was good. It was all good. It was all going swimmingly until chapter 2, verse 18, when God said, “it is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him.” So, He made woman. And to the two of them, God gave the first command, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it, have dominion over… every living thing.” Genesis 1:28.

In no other religion or belief system on earth are women held with more equality and honor than Biblical Christianity. I know that; I have seen it lived. But when I see the word “helper” it still makes me think lesser, comparatively insignificant, of smaller value. My husband outweighs me by over 100 pounds, he earns more money, manages a large store, and leads worship on a large stage. I stay home, keep kids alive, spend his paycheck on ignominious expenses like groceries and diapers, tend a garden, and write a blog. I don’t feel very important. I know – I know, through the lenses of heaven, my daily life is fulfilling the first command, and it will not seem so insignificant when I can see from that vantage point. But for now, when I’m tired, the children misbehave, the house is sticky, the garden plants die slow agonizing deaths, my husband feels overwhelmed or neglected, and the pet lizard runs out of food, it hardly feels like my efforts have any value.

The Greek word for helper in the New Testament is Paraclete. It sounds like a “pair of cleats”. Jesus told His disciples He had to leave, but God “will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever… You will know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you.” John 14:17. He was referring to the Holy Spirit. It has very similar connotations as the Hebrew word for helper (ezer) that referred to woman in Genesis.

I’m not going into an exhaustive study, but I got excited at this. The Holy Spirit is the power of God. There is nothing insignificant about Him. Bible translators used the word Helper to explain Paraclete, but English fails here. My two year old “helps” with the dishes. But the Paraclete is the advocate, the strength, the conscience, the gentle pressure that draws us in the direction of truth.  He is all the power and love of the Lord – in a whisper.

I can’t go off every weekend to get filled up with good Bible teaching and coffee. It’s not practical – and it wouldn’t be enough. I can’t fill up with enough goodness and patience – and caffeine – to last through a week of normal. I would run dry within minutes of 7 a.m. on Monday.

But. I can plug in to the source of power. I can be a conduit for the power and strength of God for my husband and my family. By dwelling with them, 24-7, just like the Spirit of God with any believer who asks Him to, I am conveying the strength – and joy and peace and confidence – of the God of creation Himself. The pressure is not on me to produce the power. Just by being present and plugged in, I will share it. It’s the only long term answer that will last through years of “helpmeet” status – the epitome of wife and motherhood. I can lace on my “pair of cleats” and run with confidence by connecting to the source of energy by reading the Word of God and praying. A little – every day – goes a long, long way.

That even trumps coffee.

It is good to be home.

Big Shoes

Some nights, Prince Charming sleeps on the sofa.

And I love him for it.

We’ve driven around the country together.  We’ve crossed the Atlantic.  We’ve jammed up against each other, close and personal, in tight train cabins across eastern Europe.  We’ve spent nights apart, wishing for the warmth of the familiar body even while relishing the chance to stretch out.  We’ve yelled at each other.  We’ve given the silent treatment.  We’ve laughed.  We’ve stayed up too late, slept in, or gotten up too early and did it all again.  I’ve dented his expensive guitar.  He’s hurt my fragile female heart.  We’ve laughed and learned and looked confused with each other’s mothers.  We’ve given both sets of in-laws grey hairs and their first grandchildren.  He’s eaten burned dinners and cold ones.  I’ve learned to live on his paycheck.  He buys the good shoes.  I’ve had to admit impulse shopping.  I’ve carried all his children.  He’s wiped the tears of all of mine.  We’ve gained weight and sympathy weight; our shapes have changed.  Our lives have changed because of how much life we’ve done together.

 

P1060810

There’s a video floating around the internet of some guys experiencing pregnancy and labor. They get hooked up to machines to simulate the pains of childbirth.  I don’t know if they make it through and get a milkshake at the end of the whole ordeal (which I consider a very necessary part of the delivery process.)  I haven’t watched the video.  There are times it’s helpful to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes, but I don’t believe my husband would be a better guy if he walked this one.  He can’t walk the marathon miracle race of childbirth.  He can’t mimic the days of nesting instinct that cause mothers to rearrange the sofas through Braxton Hicks contractions.  He can’t feel the unborn child kick as a big brother drapes himself across mom’s expansive belly.  He can’t experience the wash of hormones that allow mamas to take another breath and push.

But he wouldn’t be a better dad or husband if he did.

His own two feet have been imprinted with legos in the middle of the night, but he bore it silent so as not to wake mama or baby.

His own feet have grown numb in the pre-dawn winter cold when he drove to another day of work in a minivan with a sluggish heater.

His own feet have paced the emergency room floor with a sick child at night.

His own feet have come home repeatedly to a disheveled house and tired wife rather than spend the evening with friends.

His own feet have warmed his wife’s cold ones even when they went to bed not speaking to each other.

His own feet have worn mismatched socks because no one had attempted to scale laundry mountain in the living room for too long.

His own feet have been rolled over by his son in a wheelchair.

His own feet have often carried the weight of two children up and down the stairs.

His own two feet have often hit the cold floor before light so he’d have time to read and pray before spending a long day at work.

I don’t expect him to walk a mile in my shoes.  I’d rather he be man enough to go shoe shopping in the ladies’ section with his wife.

IMG_0707

Sometimes I have gotten upset because he wasn’t doing the dishes, or helping with the homeschooling, or scaling the side of laundry mountain.  Sometimes he doesn’t look for a honey-do list first thing on a weekend.  Sometimes he keeps the kids up past bedtime, or offers them ice cream at dinner time.  Sometimes he disciplines them differently than I would.  Sometimes he falls asleep when I want to talk.  Sometimes he forgets to touch me as much as I need him to since I’m a slow-cooker and he’s a microwave.  Sometimes he and I really don’t think the same.

And sometimes I’m patient enough to remember that is a good thing.

 

We’ve been made very different because we were both incomplete alone.  Sometimes marriage highlights the differences, and it makes for Hollywood-worthy drama.  Or comedy.  But Hollywood misses the fact that marriage, like wine or wood, or cheese, or sex, gets better with age.

Sometimes real husbands sleep on the sofa so that a sore tired mama and a new baby won’t be woken by an early alarm.

That’s love right there.

Happy Father’s Day, Prince Charming.

P1070759

Rage against the washing machine

It was late.  The house was quiet.  But I was on a role.  Half the laundry sat in obedient piles forming a semicircle around my sofa throne.  I sat, queenlike (sort of), bare feet balanced indelicately on either side of the laundry basket below me on the floor.  The linoleum in the kitchen had just been mopped; the hardwood in the other rooms had been vacuumed before that.  A mountain of clean dishes was drying; the dishwasher hummed submissively.  The week’s menu plan was mostly assembled on the dining room table; a grocery list lay freshly scribbled next to it on a sticky note.  My humble kingdom was submitting to my sweaty will.

I was tired, covered in dried sweet potatoes and whatever else the baby had lovingly raked through my hair after supper.  A bright pregnancy pimple glowed on my cheek.  The littlest guy had been cranky and uncharacteristically clingy all day.  I wondered if he was simply teething or coming down with a more serious illness that had been passing though our local friends.  My Saturday to-do list had found the nerve to sit tauntingly untouched on the cluttered counter since morning.  Dishes and laundry piled, toys multiplied underfoot, boys tracked mud across the rug, ants chose the day to wage war in conquest of the sugar bowl.  Bedtime hadn’t come soon enough.  So it wasn’t until I came back down the stairs and surveyed the carnage that my daily chores had finally begun.

My husband glanced up from scanning the daily news.  He’d come home in time to say goodnight to the boys, and was finally eating a late supper which mostly consisted of stale chips and salsa.  He helped me clean up the boys’ supper dishes, choking down the remains of their cold leftover chicken.  We exchanged a few bits of the day’s drama – who needed extra attention, what was the most expensive failure, the hardest won victory, what got broken, who spit on whom, that newest insurance issue, and what needed cleaning up.  (Our jobs managing a home and a store are not so different.)  Then I turned on the faucet over a full sink…  And commenced the whirlwind homemaking attack.

DSC_0154

It was nearly three hours later, as I sat so ladylike and regal folding laundry, that he sighed and closed the thick biography on his lap.  “I guess I’ll go to bed.”  He said quietly.  “I need to get up in about 6 hours…”

I was in the middle of a rousing internet video conference on the science of thyroid malfunction (I actually find that stuff fascinating) and was fighting the divorce rate among five laundry loads of mismatched socks.  So the weight of his words didn’t immediately sink in.  But as he stood up against the lamplight from across the room, the shadow came over my own conscience.

We go to bed together.  We’ve been married almost 13 years, so I guess you could take it more intimately and that should be no shock, but I simply mean our heads generally hit the pillows simultaneously.  Sure, there have been nights when one of us stayed up to finish cramming for a college final, or to watch the last overtime period of a final hockey game, or to nurse a waking baby, or chat long with a far away friend.  So there’s no rule.  But it’s just a thing we usually do.

But I couldn’t.  I just couldn’t leave that laundry half done.  It was on the list.  It had to get crossed off.  I frowned as I struggled with my conscience.  Chores – never ending, ever present mama to-do lists – are not supposed to supersede time with my husband.

There is always more I need to do.  I have a little old breaking down house and five energetic (and destructive) boys under 8.  And I homeschool.  And the youngest two children need carrying around quite a bit.  There is never enough time in a day, and always something that simply can’t get done.  I struggle with being organized and prioritized enough to look like we’re not a total disgrace to humanity.  Daily.

But at the end of the day, I try to put down the mama to-do list, the house list, the friend list, the self list, and pick up the wife list.  Our worlds collide precious little.  I don’t want to wake up in ten years and realize we’ve lived such separate lives that we’ve grown foreign to each other.  Some day, the chores will be so done I might actually be bored (at least that’s what they tell me.)  The kids will be grown.  The self won’t seem to matter.  But my marriage still will.

Together, before we crash exhausted and dreamless, we can commiserate over bowls of ice cream.  We can laugh too hard in communal over-tiredness at something ridiculous that a child said or that went wrong at work.  We can sit silent near each other and soak in the brief stillness before tomorrow’s storms rise on the horizon.  Our marriage is often as simple as that.

Or as hard.

I failed.  We stared at each other across the laundry-strewn floor.  “I’m sorry, honey.” I stammered.  Sleep sounded wonderful, curled up next to him between cool sheets.  But I couldn’t see the floor for the laundry.  And the doctors on the screen were animatedly discussing long term effects of diet on thyroid hormones.  And it wasn’t that my husband wouldn’t be the least bit offended if I stayed up a bit longer.  He would be asleep and oblivious moments after lying prostrate.  It’s a gift he has.  A sleep switch.  He wouldn’t miss me if I wasn’t there next to him at that moment.  But I realized with a start that my chore plan had totally overridden our routine.  And why?  Just so I could get the laundry done ten hours earlier?  The kids should have and would have helped me with it after breakfast.  But that is a much more labor-intensive operation (“Don’t wear his underwear on your head!” “Towels are not hammocks; stop swinging the baby!” “Yes, you have to help; no, you’re not too tired to pick up a shirt.”  “You are strong enough to put a washcloth in the pile.” “Balled up socks are not snowballs!”)  I was much more efficient alone, at 10 p.m.  But efficient isn’t always good for raising children or maintaining marriage…

I paid the price.  The next few days, he left the house at 6:00 and didn’t get home from work until about 10 that night.  We were both too tired, even to discuss life over a dish of ice cream, before we slept.  The next day he worked early again, then came home, grabbed his guitar, and spent the next three hours at church, where I hibernated in a dark nursing mothers room, before finally coming home to leftover pizza while I put overtired children to bed too late.

Crazy days happen.  We expect them, and they’re often both necessary and good.  But without that boring little routine, living life together when we had a brief chance, we both turned more self-sufficient.  Unfortunately.  As the full days passed, I got irritated to find his separate life intruding on mine.   How dare he leave his work pants piled on the floor so I would miss them for laundry day?  Why would he leave paperwork strewn on the table after I had spent an hour filing before he came home?  Didn’t he know how important it was to me that he come upstairs to say a late goodnight to the boys rather than placidly munch cold noodles in the kitchen?   I fumed that he’d grown so out of touch at home.

He (I’m assuming here, he never complained) took it personally that I spent so much at the grocery store.  “Didn’t she know I had bills due this week?”  He probably frowned when he came home late and found the Oreos gone.  “I bet she spends every afternoon just sitting around on Facebook and eating all the cookies.”  He likely sighed when I slept past six and didn’t get up to see him off.  “She doesn’t know what it’s like to be at the mercy of someone else’s schedule.”  He probably silently wondered how I could be so oblivious to the demands of his job.

DSC_0156

We finally found each other sitting on the sofa on Wednesday night at the same time.  It was late.  The house was, again, a mess.  His phone hadn’t stopped buzzing with questions from the office.  “Hungry?”  I asked.  He nodded.  I scooped way too big bowls of ice cream and drizzled them with chocolate syrup.  Over big spoonfuls, we caught up.  Bits and pieces.  “So and so had trouble getting their chores done today.”  “Oh yeah, same thing at work…”

“Hey, I need to pay the water bill tomorrow.”  “Ok, I’ll hold off on that big diaper shopping run then.”

“Talk to your brother recently? Are they still buying that house?”  “Yeah, I talked to him yesterday.  Is your brother driving up this weekend?”

“You ready for bed?”  “Yeah.  Let’s go.”

By the time our heads both fell against the pillows that night, our lives didn’t seem so foreign anymore.  My mommy hood roll was still messy.  His leadership roles were still hard.  We were both so tired.  But I snuggled down next to his frame, already deep breathing in the darkness, and licked a hint of chocolate from my lips.  Marriage is sweet.

I woke up the next morning to heaping loads of laundry just waiting for attention.  But laundry is patient.  Laundry is kind.  Laundry never fails.  So it can wait.  At least until morning.

the laundry monster
the laundry monster

Lost in Translation

I have a story.

I was born in sin.  Unwanted, unloved, unpitied.  They left me where I fell from the birth canal.  They weren’t careless – they were very purposeful to ignore my helpless cries.  I choked feeble little breaths, lying in my own blood, covered in filth.  No one even bothered to cut my umbilical cord, to sever me from my gestation and consider me alive.  No one even acknowledged me.  I was simply left.  Vulnerable.  Naked.  Alone.  Good for nothing, wanted by no one but death.

But there was someone who heard my weak squalling.  He saw me, flailing, gasping each pitiful breath as I waited for the last, but he didn’t turn away from that bedraggled, nearly lifeless mess like everyone else.  He hoped for me.  He pulled me out of the cold mud and blood.  He warmed me next to his heart.  He held me gently in his big hands, fed me, wiped my tears, rocked me in the long night hours, patiently.  He walked with me, holding my chubby trusting hand as I took my first faltering steps.  I learned to ask him when I needed anything, running to him to share every fear, every question, every joy of discovery.  So I grew.  Years passed.  Like a plant, thriving in rich soil, well watered, sheltered from storms, I grew healthy.  My body matured.  My hair grew long.  My skin tanned, my smooth face was unlined by worry, my laughter was free.  But I was still innocent.

It was around that time, one day, that his son noticed me.  My heart still races when I think of how he looked at me as I ran past one afternoon.  He caught me by the hand and never once acted like he wanted to let go after that.  He wanted to be with me.  He bought me gifts, jewelry, beautiful clothes, he walked with me, laughed with me, he wooed me.  He made me feel beautiful, like I was his most precious treasure.  When he looked at me with those intense eyes, so full of passion and hope, I wanted to be every bit the desirable princess he made me feel like I was to him.  He was a gentleman to a fault, wise, and clearly prepared to take care of me far into my old age.  And he was great with kids.  Really, he was the perfect guy.   Finally, he popped the question, and of course I said yes.  After that I sported a beautiful rock on my finger.  And everybody knew we were an item.  We planned the perfect wedding, lots of guests, lots of food.  He got me into an exclusive spa where I could get pampered from head to toe in preparation for the big day.  He even bought me the most gorgeous dress.  We even got our marriage license and made it official as we neared the wedding.  I felt like a queen.

Unfortunately, I started acting like one.  A drama queen, that is.  I started acting maybe a bit pretentious.  All those beautiful gifts, the jewelry, the lovely clothes, they garnered me a lot of attention.  From other men.  I started to really like the attention I got when I wore them.  I’d find excuses to go out without him.  The flattery and flirting were playful.  At first.  But I waded in deeper and deeper.  He knew.  I know he knew.  I saw the pleading look in his eyes when I made up some new excuse not to spend the evening with him.  Even then, he was a gentleman.  He’d clasp my hand as he always had, but it was I who would pull away.  I hated myself for the deception, but I always justified it.  He wanted me to be happy, right?

Those men, they flattered, but they didn’t woo me like he did.  In fact, it was the opposite.  I found myself chasing after them.  I lost my innocence.  No, I gave it away.  Eventually, I even paid others to take it.  Fool that I was, I confused that brief thrill of a moment with real love, as if I had never known what love really was.  But I had.  Sometimes, in the bitter dark night, I’d walk lonely streets knowing I was missing something.  But I didn’t try to remember the father who had loved me to life when I was left for dead.  I didn’t try to remember his son, that wonderful, strong, sweet man who had treated me like his most precious treasure.  I was in too deep.  I got pregnant, several times.  I got rid of them.  I was no better than my birth parents in that.  Worse – because I had been saved from that very death.  But by now, I had a reputation of being always available.  I maintained it better than any other girl I knew.

It always happens eventually.  It finally happened to me, though I was blindsided when it came.  When they came.  One morning, as I lay stretched out enticingly in the warm sun, a whole group of men from my past appeared.  Men I’d lied to, cheated on, men whose marriages I had helped destroy, they didn’t come hungry for anything I could give.  They were only hungry for revenge.  Justice.  And they took it.  Violently.  They pulled me from my house, ripped me out of my fancy clothes, hit me, hurt me, and then paraded me past all my neighbors.  I saw the faces of all the other girls who had been like me.  I had learned some of my trade and tricks from them.   But I had surpassed them – and now as I passed them in shame, I hung my head at their judgment.  It was deserved.

I was as naked and dirty as the day I had been born.  But this day, the whole world noticed me.  A brazen reputation like mine doesn’t hide.  It wasn’t made to.  Unfortunately.  My captors forced me to walk many streets filled with jeering people.   My feet ached.  I was bleeding.  I wished I could just go numb.  But my heart felt every insult.  My shoulders felt the weight of my condemnation.  I winced as they pushed me roughly along – up great stone steps, into an austere courtroom.

Those who led me halted only when we got to the front.  The room was crowded, but there was a spotlight on the hard floor before the judge.  They stood me there, then stepped back.  I was alone.

I didn’t look up as voice after voice called out accusations.  They listed the lives I’d destroyed, the relationships and innocent children.  It wasn’t until the judge issued the verdict that I looked up in surprise.  It wasn’t the ruling that made me catch my breath.  I was undeniably guilty.  But I recognized the magistrate’s voice.

It was my father.

I was standing before the man who’d saved me from death as a helpless infant.  Now here I was, once again naked and helpless.  My father looked at me with his deep dark eyes.  “I am not here to save you this time.  Justice must be served.  You deserve to die.”  The gavel in his big hand came down with finality.

The sound echoed through the great room.  Men rushed forward and grabbed my shackled arms.  They started to drag me roughly away.  “Stop!”  A commanding voice called from somewhere near the judge.  “What do you want?” Men sneered at the man who had spoken.  “She burned you worse than the rest of us.  You wanna be the one to pull the trigger?”  I couldn’t see through the pressing mob, but I guessed whom they referred to.  “Let her go.”  His voice was loud, but calm and sure.

“But her sentence is death!”  The mob was hungry for blood.

“I will take her place.”  I looked up in surprise.  Could such a thing happen?  Even if it could, why would anyone die in the place of a rotten traitor like me?  And of all people, especially him?

The riotous crowd parted slightly.  I caught sight of my first love.  He looked older.  But he looked at me with the same piercing gaze I remembered from so long ago.  My heart skipped a beat.

“She broke every promise!”  Another man drove the point home.  He snatched up the marriage license I had once signed from where it lay amidst a pile of evidence against me.

“But I never broke mine.”  He continued to look straight at me as he walked over.  Only when he stood next to me did he tear his gaze away, looking up at the judge.  “I will serve her sentence.  I want my wife back.”

The crowd surged forward.  They caught him up, and for a moment I saw him suspended above by angry fists before being pulled down mercilessly.  The blood-lust of the frenzied mob was terrifying.  But it was efficient.  Within minutes, they began to fall back.  The noise abated.  Their work was done.  Lying on the floor was a mangled lifeless body.  “Let them through!” someone called from a side door.  A couple official-looking men pushed through with thin-lipped determination.  They knelt on either side of the bloody form.  One pulled out some medical equipment and listened for heartbeats and pulse.  The other grasped a sharp knife.  With a sudden jab, he gashed a hole into the side of the upper abdomen.  I gasped, but the lifeless form didn’t twitch.  They looked at each other after several minutes and nodded.  “Dead.”  They pronounced, though we needed no confirmation.  It was clear.

The judge looked down at the papers in front of him.  The courtroom was completely silent as he scanned the documents.  I held my breath.  He raised the paper where my verdict and sentence had been written.  Stamped across the bottom, in bold, red letters, were the words, “Paid in Full.”

“The law is satisfied.”  The magistrate continued.  “Remove her chains.  She is free.”

In that moment, a clap of thunder shook the building.  There was an audible gasp from the crowd as we all glanced toward the windows.  But the thunder hadn’t come from the clouds.  It was in the room.  In fact, it seemed to come from the form on the floor.  Again, we heard a deep rumble as we watched, incredulous.  The man’s chest had risen and fallen in a breath.  Impossible!  The rumble died away as his breathing became regular.  He sat up.  Slowly he stood to his feet.  There was blood everywhere.  We could see scars were forming on his forehead, his arms, his side.  But he was alive.  He scanned the room and his eyes came to rest, once again, on me.  He smiled.  Triumphant.

I felt faint as hands grabbed my wrists and the fetters that chafed them were removed.  Shame washed over me as my husband draped a big warm blanket over my body.  He pulled me into an embrace.  I buried my face in his broad shoulder and wept like I never had before.  I felt him scoop me up and carry me, joyful and victorious, out of the long courtroom and into the sunlight.  It was an amazing day.  It is an amazing love.

That is my amazing story.

photo credit: Ben Earwicker
photo credit: Ben Earwicker

I took it loosely from Ezekiel 16.  It was a hard one to write.  I do not like to personalize every passage of the Bible that I read.  I want to just claim the pleasant ones and gloss over the ugly parts.  It isn’t fun to play the fool, to walk in the steps of a traitor.  I don’t like sappy romance novels, though I can certainly appreciate Cinderella stories.  Still it is uncomfortable to feel like an ugly stepsister.  But I’m pretty sure that every word of my Bible was written so that I would take it personally.  So today I tried.

And wow.  He really loves me.  The fairy tale is true.

So weep with me.  Rejoice with me.  Be amazed.  It’s not just words on paper.  It’s real.  And consider yourself invited to the wedding, because we are still planning the celebration.  It’s gonna be one heck of a party.

I hope you can make it.

He didn’t bring her roses

He sat down at the table where she was eating lunch.  She assumed he knew one of her friends sitting with them.  He didn’t.  But it was the beginning.

They were married in a quiet ceremony in a little church.  It was the cold afternoon after Valentine’s Day; the break from college classes was their honeymoon.  Her dress was homemade.  His tux was blue.

That was forty years ago.  Today.

It’s a beautiful love story, but not the kind that ends up in books.  She wasn’t a damsel in distress.  He didn’t pretend to be a knight in shining armor.  He just went to work, every day, and came home when he was done.  She kept the home and bore his children.  I am one of them, so I know their happily ever after isn’t built on Cinderella magic or promises of castles in the clouds.

But then, marriage isn’t dependent on fairy tales. In fact, I rather think Hollywood doesn’t know the beauty of romance beyond the honeymoon.  They don’t see the husband working 50 hours a week in a dead end job. They don’t see him come home and eat a cold dinner and play with his kids and fix a broken toilet and pay a few bills and fall into bed next to his wife with cold feet and messy hormones only to get up with the merciless alarm and repeat it – for years.  They don’t see the beauty.

They think eternity can somehow be counted on one hand.  They think age is only a good thing in wine and wood.  They don’t think happily ever after ever happens without a fancy diamond ring and a lot of promises made with bouquets of roses.

Her ring – the prongs bent as she worked around the house and the stone fell out.  (She found it, much later, as she scrubbed a carpet where someone had been sick.  Diamond in the rough.)

He held her hand when she birthed their children.  She held his as he was wheeled into surgery for cancer.

She sat up late with their children over homework projects.  He got up early to start the cold stove before shoveling the driveway to get to work.

He took a job far away so she could stay home with the children.

She drove them to ballet and soccer and piano lessons and play dates.  He drove a truck around the country and sent her the paycheck.

He spent hours learning computer code at the office.  She spent hours explaining long division to each child in turn.

He ate leftovers.  She always made him a plate.

He grumbled over politics and poured out his frustration at injustices when they talked in the evening over dishes.  She fretted over her children’s health and homework as they bent together over rows of seedlings in the spring.

She pinched pennies.  He took her on vacation, with all the kids and too much luggage, all piled in the minivan.

He taught the children to shift and steer and be gentle with the clutch.  She spent hours in the passenger seat as they practiced, knuckles gripping white, but silent.

She watched as he walked their daughter down the aisle and gave her away.  He smiled soft and happy as he watched her hold her first grandson.

He doesn’t buy her roses.  She doesn’t want them.  Flowers in a vase die.  He buys her seeds, he plows the field and helps water it.  Every year, they watch their gardens bloom.  Seeds planted – they grow.  Nurtured – they flourish.  Invested in – they multiply.

There isn’t a picture of their wedding day on the walls of their house.  But I guess you don’t need a picture of the first day that Rome started to be built…

The fairy tales don’t tell you what the “after” part of happily ever looks like.

But I know.

“After” is where the story really happens.

Scan 3

Happy anniversary, Mom and Dad.

The Gift of Madge and Guy

She never bought jewelry for herself.  Oh, it was nice to be able to wear it sometimes.  Every piece that she owned had value because it had been given to her.  That included, of course, her engagement ring.

He’d handed her a flower that day, joy forever etched in memory.  In the flower was the ring.  She’d been expecting it, but it was still a surprise to see the glint within the petals.  And there he was on one knee grinning at her, the young blonde musician, full of hope.  She said yes.

Years passed.  He wrote songs for her on his guitar.  They grew.  The ring went on all their travels together, through love and arguments, through mud and soap, scraping against the keys to their first house and first car, stuck on swollen fingers of pregnancy, worn through sickness and health, richer and poorer…

In the midst of hospital work, diapers at home and nursing school, she decided that it would be safer to tuck the ring away.  She kept a simple gold wedding band on her finger, but the poky diamond solitaire was too much of a liability.  Some of the prongs holding the rock were bent.  So it went to live in a little box, nestled next to her late grandmother’s ring on the shelf.  Her life bustled on.

Several years  passed.  The family grew.  They had a few children now.  It was the time annually when they normally drew in their belts, paid some yearly bills, planned for school shopping, and prayed nothing big would break.  But the minivan broke anyway.  Actually both of their minivans did, on the highway, one hundred miles from home, within minutes of each other.  It was a Sunday afternoon; not many mechanics were available.  Her husband tenaciously tinkered inside the hood of one before crawling under the other.  It took several tense hours lying on the hot cracked asphalt of a deserted parking lot, with tired kids and a worried wife andhungry baby milling around him, but he managed to stick the muffler and tail pipe back on one van with a little ingenuity and a lot of sweat.  The other van had be left to wait for more expensive repairs and another day.

They made it home eventually.  But repairs took the last breathing space out of their budget.  Every bit of his income was already spoken for.  Sorting through bills felt a bit like drowning; they were getting behind.  What could they do; choose between groceries or the mortgage?  Husband and wife scoured the house looking for anything of value that could be helpful.  There were few things that would bring more than a handful of change at a yard sale.  What little they had was second hand and quite necessary.  They only found two things of any worth.

His guitar.

Her ring.

They were simply objects, but both reminded them of priceless memories.  The guitar was used for worship music at church, and putting melody to thoughts at home.  The ring was the first symbol of their marriage.  God had done financial miracles in their life before.  They prayed for another.  But money didn’t fall from the sky this time.  The bills didn’t miraculously disappear.  Were their prayers for help not reaching heaven?  Was something amiss in their life?  Was it true that God only helps those who help themselves?  Was this their help?

The ring went to a pawn shop.  The guitar, to Ebay.

Once committed, they breathed freely.  There was nothing else.  Nothing to come between them and God.  Their need was all up to Him to meet now.

Of course, God did.

The guitar sold.  In the quiet, he taught himself to play piano.  Months later, he found a new guitar at a good price.

Her ring wasn’t worth a great deal to anyone else.  After trying several shops, it was returned to its place on the shelf.

But the mortgage got paid.  Groceries were bought.  They thanked God anew.

Sometimes little things can block our view of great big God.  Sometimes He is more honored to hear silence than the music of worship.  Sometimes we need to give up everything we consider valuable so that we can gain some real treasure.

Sometimes it is a real sacrifice to thank Him in the midst of distress.

These times are the most important times to do it.

Giving thanks is a sacrifice that truly honors Me.  – Psalm 50:23

God didn’t help them because they helped themselves.  He didn’t want to “help”.  What value would they assign Him if He was merely helping them to do it?  God wanted to do it all.  Once the obstacles were removed from their view, He did.  God gives the best gifts.

Always.

Death by Grape Soda

We went to bed early on our twelfth anniversary.

I was battered and bruised from the marathon of having a baby three days prior, and Josh and I were both exhausted.  We did have steak and good ice cream that evening, but when our heads hit the pillows, we promptly slept.  (For a few minutes anyway, until the baby woke up hungry again.)

Every year is an adventure, but I have a lovely marriage and a wonderful husband.  I wouldn’t trade a bit of it.

So it came as a shock to him when I nearly killed my husband in the kitchen this past week.

That sounds like something from the boardgame Clue.  “Mommy did it, in the kitchen, with a bottle of grape soda…”

I’m learning the benefits of fermenting different types of foods.  Many foods like wheat, dairy, and lots of veggies, are much more healthy and their vitamins more accessible if you give certain enzymes a chance to break down the less digestible stuff before you get to them.  Currently, I’ve got sauerkraut souring on the laundry room shelf, kombucha (a healthy tea drink) condensing on the top of the fridge, sourdough starter sleeping inside the fridge, and a ginger bug going great guns in a jar on the counter.

The ginger bug is used to make healthy homemade soda.  It’s not really an insect; just a jar of sugar water and chopped up ginger.  Enzymes from the ginger break down the sugar and release carbon dioxide.  A mix with some of this bubbly water and some juice or tea will result in a fizzy refreshing beverage.

At least in theory.

I started my jar of ginger water over a week ago and finally had it bubbling and ready.  I’m not one for measuring more than I have to, so I dumped a bunch of the liquid into a glass bottle with some grape juice and plugged it tight.  Then I left it on the counter to let the good little bacteria (bacterias? bacteriae?) eat the sugar and make lots of fizz.

Which they did.

About 9:33 p.m., according to the police report (just kidding, ha…) my husband was sitting on a kid chair in the corner of the kitchen, scrolling through the news on his handy little smart phone.  I was sweeping up the dining room and silently grumbling about the lack of time in a measly 24 hour day.  The boys were in bed; the baby was half-asleep in the living room waiting for his bedtime snack from mommy.  All was quiet.

Suddenly, a shotgun blast reverberated through the house.  Yikes!  I peeked around the corner into the kitchen.  Josh had jumped up and was feeling all over his shirt for holes.  Glass was everywhere.  Everywhere.  Purple grape blood dripped off the counter and oozed from a growing puddle toward nomansland under the fridge.  Miraculously, he hadn’t been touched by any glass shards, though they had landed all around him.  We both took a deep breath and thanked God it was only a big mess.  I shoved my bare feet into some shoes and we started sopping up the fizzy purple puddles, sweeping glass splinters, wiping walls, the fridge, the counters and all the appliances on them…  So much for going to bed early.

broken

As I bent over the mop, late into that night, I had time to reflect on my marriage.  Those glass bits were sharp, unexpected, and quick.  Just a few minutes before the explosion, he had been leaning against the counter inches from the pressurized bottle.  I could have lost my husband in a moment.  I suppose it’s more likely he would gotten bad scratches all over his face, maybe lost an eye or gotten a literal close shave.  But it did make me appreciate the life of my husband.  I could have been widowed at age 31, with a newly-minted fifth child and a mortgage, and would suddenly have been very much alone.

One third of my life has been spent married, but I can’t imagine living without him now.

Whom else could I argue with over finances and yet he’d still want me to buy groceries with his paycheck the next day?

Who else would critique my cooking in the morning and still expect a nice dinner at night?

Whom else could I ask if these pants make me look fat?

Who else could take up three quarters of the bed most nights and yet I can’t sleep without him there?

Who else could watch me go through childbirth five times (I don’t make it look pretty) and kiss me joyfully after each birth?

Who else can occasionally leave me speechless in anger and yet still make me blush and forget my words like a giddy schoolgirl when he walks into the room?

Whom else could I blame for my kids’ tendencies and hair color?  (Hint: not their mother… 🙂 )

Who else will offer to order a pizza while I’m too busy to make dinner because I’m researching organic food?

Who else could smack the mosquito on my head and expect a thank you?

Who else knows what I’m thinking by the twitch of my mouth?

Who else could still want to hug me after being nagged for most of the day?

Who else could find me beautiful through every season, every gained curve from pregnancy and wrinkle from toddlerhood and sag from preschool and white hair from the elementary years?

Who else would show me that the place of submission is a place of rest rather than restlessness?

Who else can say that everything legally in his name is for me to freely use?

Who else will keep me up late at night just to eat ice cream and research wheelchair sports together?

My marriage isn’t perfect.  It’s real.  And I don’t always appreciate it until it is shaken.  For instance, like a bottle of grape soda.

Billy Graham’s wife, the late Ruth Graham, said, “A good marriage is simply the union of two good forgivers.”

The next morning, he caught me in the kitchen by the coffee maker.

“I’m sorry I almost killed you with my ginger bug.”  I murmured into his shirt as I hugged him.

“It’s OK; it didn’t work.”  He smiled down at me.  “I’ll buy you a new bottle.”

grape soda

Word of advice – keep your marriage free of fermentation.  Hope the next dozen years are as great an adventure as the first.